Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”
― Neil Gaiman

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

Some time ago, after reading After Dark, I said I wanted to explore more of Haruki Murakami’s work, well I finally got around to it, and I’m very happy I did.

Earlier this year I read Norwegian Wood as a book club selection (review to come, our club has yet to meet due to a few members taking their sweet time to read the book!) and I loved it. I loved it almost as much as The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and you know how much I love that book! I don’t know what it is about certain translations (that they are beautiful maybe?) but I just can’t get enough of them. I was so taken by Norwegian Wood that I began to think that Murakami might actually be one of my favourite authors, but I couldn’t make such a decision based on two books, to find out for sure I needed to read more.

So, I set myself the task of actively reading more Murakami (to begin with I decided I’d read one book a month, but what with all my other commitments that is starting to seem like wishful thinking) and first on the list was Kafka on the Shore. Now, Norwegian Wood is said to be somewhat of an anomaly in Murakami’s portfolio, but Kafka on the Shore is quintessentially Murakami-esque – so I thought this could be the decision maker.

Where Norwegian Wood is a unique take on a classic tale of love, Kafka on the Shore is weird, wonderful and unashamedly unique!

It’s as if when you’re in the forest, you become a seamless part of it. When you’re in the rain, you’re a part of the rain. When you’re in the morning, you’re a seamless part of the morning. When you’re with me, you become a part of me.

kotsIn Kafka on the Shore storylines combine to trace the extraordinary journeys of two seemingly unrelated characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home on the eve of his fifteenth birthday, haunted by the words of his father’s dark prophecy. Ever since the mysterious departure of his mother and elder sister Kafka’s life has been full of questions. Now his aim is simple, to travel to a far off place and live in the corner of a library. The journey, it seems, may hold the answers.

Elsewhere in Nakano ward, the dim-witted but amiable Nakata tracks lost cats and enjoys the simple things in life, like eels, and pickled vegetables with rice. But this is all set to change with the arrival of a tall man in a top hat and boots, whose interest in the neighbourhood cats is far from innocent. With his simple life turned upside down Nakata is forced to leave Nakano ward, and embarks on journey unlike anything he has ever experienced before, or his simple mind can even comprehend.

As Nakata and Kafka’s stories unwind and intertwine the remarkable interlaces with the ordinary and the world takes on a wholly unusual shape – fish and leeches fall from the sky, and cats converse with people, while WWII soldiers live, unageing, in the depths of unnavigable forest, and living ghosts lurk in the perimeters of consciousness.

Kafka on the Shore is a classic tale of quest and enlightenment, with a wholly unusual twist, which goes beyond the boundaries of classic literature. Murakami’s characters embark on a journey of stunning proportions, a voyage of self-discovery through inexperience. Neither Kafka nor Nakata know what it is they are looking for, but the answer is out there, and the journey introduces them to many strange and wonderful characters, with whom brief encounters prove to be life-affirming.

Anyone who falls in love is searching for missing pieces of themselves. So anyone who’s in love gets sad when they think of their lover. It’s like stepping back inside a room you have fond memories of, one you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s just a natural feeling. You’re not the person who discovered that feeling, so don’t go trying to patent it, okay?

Kafka on the Shore is strange – there is no getting around it. Weird and wonderful things occur and the reasons behind these occurrences are not immediately, if at all, clear. Each chapter harbours events which, however deep and profound an impact they may have, lack any logical explanation. Try and apply a logical filter to Murakami’s and you will no doubt find yourself disappointed and frustrated.

I found it useful, in having read Kafka on the Shore to try and get some insight into  Murakami’s own thoughts on his writing. Murakami has explained his writing process as similar to dreaming, rather than delving into the fantastical: “Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake. I can continue yesterday’s dream today, something you can’t normally do in everyday life. It’s also a way of descending deep into my own consciousness. So while I see it as dreamlike, it’s not fantasy. For me the dreamlike is very real.”

Kafka on the Shore, then, can be seen as the amalgamation of two different worlds, the combination of the conscious and the unconscious. Think of the book as you would a dream, and suddenly things become much clearer. I was reminded, in reading this, of the talk I went to by Nigerian author Ben Okri last summer in which he spoke of exploring a new way of thinking in his writing, to show that text does not have to follow strict criteria. The world that you create, he said, can be sequential and logical, or circular and dancing. Kafka on the Shore falls firmly into the latter category.

Despite everything, it’s not a difficult book to read. The obscure and the philosophical, which may at times feel somewhat overwhelming, for me were lightened by Murakami’s abstract humour. Here I could give examples of the pimp dressed like Colonel Sanders, or Nakata’s continued reference to going for a ‘dump’ – but for me, the most hilarious part of the book, was Oshima’s fantastic shutting down of two women who refer to him as a ‘typical sexist, patriarchal male’.

My verdict – I liked it. But nowhere near as much as Norwegian Wood. I definitely need to read some more before I make a decision on just how much of a Murakami fangirl I am. The book won’t be for everyone – fans of the logical and sequential and those of you unsettled by violence against animals should steer clear of this one – but I’m certainly not done with my Murakami journey just yet.

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

“If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?” ― Jodi Picoult

the-lovely-bones-9781447275206I had wanted to read this book for so long. I would often find myself seeking it out in bookshops just after it was released, picking it up and stroking the cover, reading the blurb on the back for the umpteenth time

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973. My murderer was a man from our neighbourhood. My mother liked his border flowers, and my father talked to him once about fertilizer.

But I never bought it.

I have obsessed over the idea of this book for the best part of a decade – a story told by the spirit of a murdered girl, however macabre it may sound, is right up my street. I am fascinated by anything to do with the paranormal and spirituality. I wanted to get to know Susie Salmon better; I wanted to read her story.

So when my good friend Kate over at The Little Crocodile bought me the book last month for my birthday I was over the moon!

The Lovely Bones is a haunting tale told by the spirit of murdered school girl Susie Salmon. Looking down from her heaven Susie observes her family and friends. She watches the devastation and destruction that her murder causes, rippling through her small town, and shaking the community to its very core. Susie watches her family as they struggle to comprehend life without her, leaving the porch light on well after they know she is no longer coming home. As time goes on, and Susie watches her siblings and friends grow older, she learns that she must let go of her anger to allow those left behind to heal.

This book is not for the faint hearted. I become much more emotionally invested in a book than I ever have in film or TV and this one really got to me. I’ve had unsettlingly emotional episodes with books in the past; I grieved for Sirius black after reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Anybody out there? by Marian Keyes threw me into the depths of despair for a good few weeks. This one was different though. Sebold’s writing gave me nightmares, and at some points I doubted whether I would actually be able to finish it.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book – I did. It was everything I hoped for, and a little more. The effect that this book had on me speaks of the power of Sebold’s words – I was upset by Susie’s death, horrified by the circumstances and devastated by the effect that this had on the family. But more than this, I was distressed by Susie’s position in all this, as an outsider looking in on the effect that her death had in her community. She was intercepted by her neighbour on the way home from school that cold winter’s day in 1973; she never made it home. Susie’s story is incredibly moving in that it details her spirit’s journey, still attempting to find her way home after so many years; she may be in heaven, but her true place will always be on Earth.

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Sebold has taken a story about a murdered school girl and completely turned it around, presenting an intricate analysis into grief and resolution. Fans of crime fiction may be put off to know that there is no secret as to who the killer is, you know him from the start, and if you begin the book hoping for a revelation in which Susie’s killer is brought to justice you will likely feel disappointed. But approach Sebold’s work with an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised.

The Lovely Bones is beautifully written and hauntingly captivating and will leave you quietly contemplating Susie long after you have finished her story. It is difficult to say who I would recommend the book to – so I will simply say that if you feel intrigued by my review, then give it a go.

Has anyone else read this book? I’d love to hear from you to find out what you thought. Drop me a line or comment below.

The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna Van Praag

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W. B. Yeats

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‘The house has stood at the end of Hope Street for nearly two hundred years. It’s larger than all the others, with turrets and chimneys rising into the sky. The front garden grows wild, the long grasses scattered with cowslips, reaching toward the low-hanging leaves of the willow trees. At night the house looks like a Victorian orphanage housing a hundred despairing souls, but when the clouds part and it is lit by moonlight, the house appears to be enchanted. As if Rapunzel lives in the lower tower and a hundred Sleeping Beauties lie in the beds.’

This book is so incredibly sweet and gentle, definitely one for a lazy afternoon where you just want to curl up with a book and wile away the hours.

In The House at the End of Hope Street Van Praag vicariously lives out her dream of providing a safe refuge for women who have lost hope and need a place to recover and find their direction in life.

Alba Ashby, the youngest PhD student at Cambridge University has hit an enormous bump in her journey towards academic success. Alone and beside herself she begins to wander the streets of Cambridge, her mind constantly wandering back to ‘the worst event’ of her life. As she walks she attempts to shake away her memories and search for solace in the dark streets of the university city. One night something calls to her on the wind and she finds herself stood before a mysterious house on Hope Street, unconsciously ringing the doorbell. There the beautiful Peggy Abbot welcomes her with open arms and a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Alba is invited to remain at Hope Street for no more than 99 days: ‘long enough to help you turn your life around and short enough that you can’t put it off forever’. As well as having the luxury of no rent or bills, and a room of her own, Alba is promised that she will not have to work through her problems alone.169457_3d60d4c13a1677754831f3f04683f9d2_large

‘If you stay I can promise you this,’ Peggy says. ‘This house may not give you what you want, but it will give you what you need. And the event that brought you here, the thing that you think is the worst thing that’s ever happened? When you leave, you’ll realize it was the very best thing of all.’

Alba is an unusual girl, gifted with a second sight. She has the ability to see those who are no longer living as well as things that others cannot see – sounds, emotions, feelings and scents trail through the air before her very eyes. Birds sing in blue and weave ribbons through the sky, and the words of those she speaks with emerge before her eyes, written as if by an imaginary typewriter, revealing the speakers true colours. When she steps through the door of 11 Hope Street she is perhaps not as surprised as the reader by the magical world enclosed within, and not in the least bit startled by the ghost of girl sat smiling in the kitchen sink.

In The House at the End of Hope Street Van Praag introduces us to an enchanting, magical world. Over the years the house has been home to great women throughout history, black and white images of Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker come to life to offer words of wisdom and advice to Alba, the walls rattle and breathe and Alba’s room transforms, filling with book cases, and fluttering copies of hundred of novels. The house is alive, and drops hints and ideas into the minds of the residents, placing notes on their dressers, providing them with gifts to nurture their talents, and denying them those which they must seek elsewhere. Bookish Alba spends her first days curled up in the cocoon of her bedroom, losing herself in the books provided for her by the house, before slowly embarking on her own journey.

In her time at Hope Street Alba goes through even more heartbreak and devastation, as she loses the person closest to her and discovers the truth behind a long kept family secret. These events help guide her on the road towards self-fulfilment, as though every cloud really does have a silver lining. For the first time in her life she is able to make friends, rather than just acquaintances, and she discovers that people living right beneath her nose will soon come to mean the world to her.

)7_WillPryce_CUL_There are twists in the story, some that I saw coming, and some that I didn’t, but all of which are delightful and sure go bring a smile to your face. Do not expect to find out exactly what Alba is running from right away, it takes some time, Van Praag teases the secret out deliciously, keeping you reading on long after you should have put the book down and started on supper.

As a Cambridge girl myself, I really enjoyed reading about the Cambridge Alba inhabits. I loved to imagine her slipping on the cobbles outside Trinity College, and running through the lanes, darting into a little bookshop to shelter from the rain, and delighted at her description of the Cambridge University Library as ‘her cathedral’.

Bookish types are sure to enjoy this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys gentle fantasy and magical realism. I would not say the book has changed my life and made it onto my favourites list, but I definitely enjoyed it, and was awarded with that warm feeling of satisfaction that comes from finishing a truly pleasant book.

Casting the Runes: An Arts Alive production

“In one aspect, yes, I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.” ― Laurie Halse Anderson

25th March 2015 at Whittlesey Library and Learning Centre, 7pm

Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James

IMG_8302By now you will doubtless be familiar with my love of ghosts. So it will come as no surprise to know that I leapt at the opportunity to go to a ghost story reading. I was even more excited by the fact that the stories were those by none other than my favourite ghostly author, M R James. James’s Ghost Stories of an Antiquary is one of my bookshelf essentials. So I was simply quivering with anticipation from the day I was invited by my long-suffering best friend right up until the house lights went down and Robert Lloyd Parry took his place at the front of the audience.

The setting itself was less than spooky, a 20th century community building in the heart of a fenland market town, but the Arts Alive team had done a great job of creating a certain ghostly ambiance. The lights were dimmed, the audience assembled around a single high backed chair, nestled cosily next to a small wooden table topped with a decanter of ‘whisky’, several ageing leather backed books, a handful of old photographs and some other dusty artefacts.

IMG_8300For those of you who are unfamiliar with M R James, there are so many reasons why you absolutely need to get hold of and read some of his short ghostly stories (I recommend to the highest degree possible Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad). James is nothing short of a master of the ghost story. His stories specialise in circumstance and the terrible events which can emerge from ignorant mortals meddling in the unknown. His writing is subtle, focusing on the small details; shadows, the voices of madmen and figures glimpsed out the corner of your eye. Like all great gothic writers, James allows his readers to create their own ghosts, existing only in their minds, and never once flitting across the parchment.

Robert Lloyd Parry did a stunning job donning M R James’s persona. The mind boggles at how he was able to reel off a 90 minute performance with such ease, never stumbling over his words or seeming to pause for thought. He expertly assumed not just James but each of his characters, never flinching or breaking character even for a second.

IMG_8303The first story – Casting The Runes – threw the audience back to 1903, and began by with the reading of a collection of letters. The letters informed an unknown character that a draft paper submitted for publishing in a programme was not to be included. These seemingly innocent notes paved the way for a series of strange and ghostly events including vanishing tram adverts, mysterious roadside leafleters, and unknown furry creatures lurking beneath bedclothes, all linked together by the passing of a cursed script. Parry told the story with remarkable ease, barely glancing even once at the audience, and framing the tale from multiple points of view.

When he came to the end of the first story, Parry rose from his chair for the first time and silently swept from the room, leaving the audience alone and awestruck. The house lights came up and we were able to mull about for a short time, enjoying a reasonably priced drink from the charity bar and discussing the past 45 minutes.

I was delighted to find that my other half – who before the event reported that he was ‘livid’ at my forcing him to come along to a ghost story reading – had thoroughly enjoyed the performance thus far. As, it seemed, had everyone else. I’d spent so long raving about M R James in the days running up to this event that I will confess to having been being slightly nervous that the performance would be met with anything other than pure wonderment.

IMG_8305After a short interval the house lights went down, and we were quickly ushered back to our seats. Parry once more slipped into his seat and immediately transformed once again into the evenings faithful host.

The second tale – The Residence of Whitminster – which was in equal parts mesmerising and chilling, was an 18th century tale of the supernatural destruction of a Whitminster residence, beginning with the arrival of a gaunt young man, the disappearance of a jet black cockerel named Hannibal and the feverish rants of a distressed child. Parry assumed the persona of no less than eight characters, slipping seamlessly from one side of a conversation to another, in a performance which had the eyes of the audience glued to his every move.

I was overwhelmed by Parry’s performance; I went to the event as a lover of all things M R James, and was delighted that one man managed to do his work so much justice. The most remarkable thing about the event is one I am not sure I can adequately put into words. I could compare Parry’s performance to the alcohol induced ramblings of an ancient figure propped against the bar of a public house; a one way conversation with a compulsive storyteller; or the confession of one whose secrets have been kept for too long.

The event, I feel, is something you will have to see for yourself in order to fully appreciate it. One of the ladies in charge of Arts Alive said that the events had been very well received, and I can see why. Lovers of ghost stories, fans of M R James, and those who were even slightly intrigued by the beginning of this review, I urge you look and see if Robert Lloyd Parry is performing in a library near you.

Children’s book review tour! Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves” ― Abraham Lincoln

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole

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Another children’s classic, the picture book. It is unusual for me to try and review a book with no words at all, but a challenge I accepted and enjoyed to the last.

What would you do
if you had the chance
to help a person
find freedom.

This is the question presented to a young girl, in Henry Cole’s haunting tale of a young slave’s journey to freedom.

Unspoken is a beautiful example of a children’s picture book with illustrations that are filled with emotion and can, on their own, tell a strong and provocative tale. Cole has taken something which is often associated with children’s literature, a picture book, a wordless story, and created something beautiful. That is not to say that picture books can’t appeal to adults. Children’s classic such as The Snowman, and Father Christmas are stunning and offer equal entertainment for adults as they do for children.  Indeed, the tale told in Unspoken can speak more toward an adult audience as the innocent child is unlikely to grasp the full extent of sadness that underlies the beautiful artwork. To the child the book may appear as nothing more than a story of young girl with a secret friend.

unspoken-9780545399975-pages-16-17-1-final-rightWithout words, the young girl who lives within the illustrations of Cole’s work is almost a stranger to us; we do not know her name, or very much about her life. However, from her actions it seems as though she is from a less than well off family. Cole draws her working on a farm in tattered clothes, leading cattle and feeding chickens. It is while carrying out chores that the child sees men on horseback riding through her family’s farm, they are searching for something, and she is soon to discover the whereabouts of their quarry. Sent to the barn to gather supplies she is startle by a sound coming from a pile of corn – there is someone there.

If we knew little about the young girl, even more mysterious is the identity of the runaway. We see only their eye peeking through the ears of corn, and later, their thankful hands, reaching out to receive food encased within the young girl’s handkerchief. In my mind I have given the runaway a female identity, although each reader will have their own feelings on this matter.

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The worry etched on the young girls face as she hides this secret says far more than any words could express. Her concern seeps from the pages, a combined anxiety for the creature in the corn, and that she will be discovered harbouring a fugitive.  She watches with clear disdain as men on horseback visit her father once again, offering a reward for the return of an escaped slave. You can see that the family live a simple life, likely a reward would be very gratefully received, and yet the young girl looks on, in silence.

Our heroine, beautiful in her innocence, seems only to think of the safety of the figure in the corn. She follows her heart, as the runaway follows the North Star, away from the South, to freedom. When she returns to the barn and finds the runaway gone, leaving behind a small token of thanks, she knows she has made the right choice.

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Without a single word Cole’s book speaks mountains. There is no colour, no creed, no judgement, just a person, helping another person.

In his author’s note Cole writes that he hopes that those who read the book will use his pictures as a starting point to create their own story – filling in all that has been left unspoken.

Children’s book review tour! Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”  ― Wilfred Owen

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

51QTsd1WFBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There was never any question of including this book on my tour list. Before I had even received the book I knew that I loved it. Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier is exactly what the title implies; the diary of an unknown soldier.

One winter’s morning, Barroux was walking down the streets of Paris when he passed a house which was being emptied of rubbish; piles of old belongings, wrappers and refuse had been placed in the street. ‘We are emptying the basement. Help yourself if you like’ he was told by one of the people ferrying rubbish onto the street. It was at this point that Barroux picked up an ageing yellow diary from amongst the rubbish. A diary which belonged to an unknown soldier serving during world war one. Barroux took the diary and from it created Line of Fire, a graphic novel depicting the words written by an unknown French soldier…may his words never be forgotten.

This book was such a find! I’m over the moon to have discovered it, read it, and to have a copy of my own.

The illustration style fits so perfectly with the subject; you can almost imagine the soldier himself drawing them. They are simple, almost childish, yet graphic, as though they have been scratched with a piece of charcoal salvaged from the embers of long extinguished fire. They remind me, in some ways, of images I have seen drawn by soldiers on the front line. Although the sketches undoubtedly carry Barroux’s distinctive style, there is much in the way of reality present in the scenes. I am reminded of the images in A Soldiers Sketches Under Fire by Harold Harvey – real images sketched by a soldier on the front line.

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It feels strange to review the words of a man when I know nothing about him. Although Barroux is listed as the author of the book, the words belong to the Unknown Soldier. They are exactly as they were found, although in the case of my copy they have been translated into English from their native French. They are powerful words, and although it does not take long to read the book, the effect of the story is far reaching and potent.

The Unknown Soldier speaks of the things which are sure to have plagued any man on the front line of WWI. His fatigue, it is crippling, and he feels dead on his feet – ‘My feet are bleeding, My legs can no longer hold me up. This isn’t a man who’s walking but a sheep following the flock.’ He is never able to rest for more than a few hours before being aroused, often in the dead of night, to move on to the next place. He takes to sleeping on piles of straw, where they are available, next to his companion Fernand, sleeping close together for warmth, and, I expect, comfort.

Our Soldier worries about those he has left behind. He is so worried, plagued by worry each time he receives no word from home. It is moving to see the worry from the other side. It is well known that those that are left behind will worry about their father, brother, son, or husband who has gone away to fight, but the soldiers words show that the worry tortures him equally. ‘The women weep. It’s up to us to show that we’re stronger than they are and convince them that we will return.’ When he does hear news his release is evident, as though he has let out a deep breath of relief; ‘at last I receive some postcards from my dear wife’.

The horror of war is also painted on the pages of the diary, not so much in Barroux’s drawings, but in the soldier’s words. The words are not complicated or flowing, but to the point, and powerful – you can smell the gunpowder, hear the crackle of artillery fire, and see the horrors that the Unknown Soldier scrawls within the pages of his diary. ‘This is where a powerful shell landed on a platoon of the 6th company, which was partially destroyed’ he writes, having seen the remains of a soldiers leg hanging from a tree branch.

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The Unknown Soldier seems to have made a narrow escape from the horrors of war, although no one knows now anything about the man who kept this diary.  He writes of being injured while forced to advance under the eruption of overhead shrapnel, and of the bravery of a fellow soldier, without whom he may not have survived. ‘While he’s bandaging my arm, the shells continue to rain down on us. I shall never forget the devotion of this soldier who didn’t think twice about risking his life, staying close in order to tend to me.’

Once out of the line of fire, he is faced with a lengthy journey to a hospital, all the while in indescribable pain, and with a raging fever which forbids him rest and sustenance. It is once he arrives at hospital, and his fever begins to subside that he is faced with another, unimagined issue – boredom. For a week we hear nothing of the Unknown Soldier, and then, he writes of his boredom, the slowness of the days, his heavy heart, and his feeling that life is carrying on all the same outside of the hospital walls.

‘Sometimes I’m sorry I didn’t stay in the line of fire’ – and with these words the Unknown Soldier’s story ends.

Line of Fire has left me feeling such a strange mix of emotions, with so many questions running through my mind. The power of the Unknown Soldier’s last words are incredible, and only made more so by the fact that he, undoubtedly, never expected anyone to read his diary. Who was this man? And why did he stop writing? Questions I will find myself often asking, and will never know the answer to.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone. Even if you don’t feel drawn to Barroux’s illustrations the power of the Unknown Soldier’s words will not fail to captivate. History students, WWI fanatics, children and adults alike, this is a lesson in history, and an important one at that. Read it and pass on the recommendation.

Children’s book review tour! Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales – Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I could hardly do a book tour on children’s book for adults without delving into a little bit of young adult fiction now could I? If you enjoyed them as a pre-teen, you will probably quite enjoy going back over them now. Who can honestly say they wouldn’t happily sit down with a copy of Goosebumps, if just for the novelty?

Don’t lie to me.

So the next book on my tour was selected with this in mind.

Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales – Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

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‘Let’s be honest. We have questions about monsters. That’s why we put this book together. That’s why you’re reading this book right now. On old maps, cartographers would draw strange beasts around the margins and write phrases such as “Here be dragons.” That’s where monsters exist: in the unmapped spaces, in the places where we haven’t filled in all the gaps, in outer space or in the deepest parts of the ocean.’

In their Anthology of Beastly Tales Link and Grant answer some questions about monsters, or rather, tell us a few tales about the monsters hiding in plain sight.

But before we begin reading, there’s a pop quiz to complete – this is novel. So as advised, I turn down the lights, pick up a nice sharp pencil, ‘one that can double as a weapon in an emergency’, and tell the truth.

The questions start off casually; multiple choice questions about the way monsters look, would I consider dating a spider, would I let a vampire bite me, you get the gist. But then they get just a little too creepy for a girl alone in a big house on a dark night.

When you were younger, you were afraid that something was in your closet.
Yes/No

There’s nothing in the closet. Really.
True/False

Are you sure there’s nothing in the closet.
Yes/No

Maybe you should go look in the closet, just in case.
Yes/No/I don’t want to. You do it.

Check again. Just one more time. Go ahead. We’ll wait right here.

After completing my pop quiz, silently cursing Link and Grant, and with my wardrobe door firmly shut. I began the first story ‘Moriabe’s Children’.

“Alanie had never seen a kraken, but her people spoke of them often. The kraken were out beyond the breakwaters of Serenity Bay, the hungry children of Moriabe. They writhed in the depths and sometimes rose to the surface to hunt. A kraken’s tentacles could encircle a sailing ship and crack its spine. Kraken snapped masts like kindling, and swallowed sailors whole.”

This first tale creeped me out. I’m terrified of squids, and the descriptions of the mammoth children of Moriabe writhing like ink pools under the sea surface made me inwardly shudder. So far so good!Denys_de_Montfort_Poulpe_ColossalThere are fifteen stories in all. Fifteen tales that dip briefly into the lives of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons and shape shifters. Some of these creatures hide in the shadows of our own existence, and some inhabit their own weird and wonderful worlds, where flowers are the cancer that infects a person’s soul and artificial boyfriends made from soft plastic walk among the living.

The book has a great combination of stories from different authors from all over the world, and shows an immense amount of imagination and flair. Some of the stories will appeal more to some than to others, as with any anthology, but I think there will be something here for everyone. I was particularly pleased to come across a hidden comic strip towards the end of the book, which was wholly unexpected, and served as a nice break from the rest of the text.

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)Reading Monstrous Affections was like revisiting my preteen years. Some of the stories don’t try and frighten in the slightest, and instead slip into the weird and wonderful, while others are straight out spine-chilling. I am thinking in particular of ‘Left Foot, Right’ – the story of a young girl who, guilt ridden at her sister’s death, attempts to appease her sisters spirit with the gift of new shoes – which was undoubtedly the most horrifying of the stories from my perspective, and I love ghost stories.

The book is also, physically beautiful, it is a nice weighty volume, with a stunning, if slightly horrifying cover image. The book is hardbacked and made from thick, good quality paper, and to hold in your hands feels almost like a spell book, or book of dark magic, apart from having that wholly divine new book smell, rather than an equally pleasant old book scent.

But the thing I found most impressive about this book, was not the stories themselves, but the fact that many of the stories explore a lot of issues which pre-teen and young adult audiences will be able to relate to. Many of the stories explore sexuality and underage pregnancy, as well as looking at love and friendship, the loss of loved ones and bullying. I think exploring issues such as these is really important in YA fiction, and Monstrous Affections has approached this really well.

Monstrous Affections was a really fun, and at times slightly thrilling book to read. Link and Grant have selected a great variety of short stories to fit into this anthology; of the 15 tales included each is unique, with different ghosts and ghouls unlikely to feature in more than one tale. I think this book would appeal to a wider age group than the young adults it is aimed at, but with adults it would be more of a novelty than anything else. That said, I would recommend that anyone who did enjoy reading the likes of Goosebumps and Point Horror as a pre-teen give it a go.

I was sent a free copy of Monstrous Affections by Walker books in exchange for an honest review.